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Hugh Martin talks war with The New York Times

atwar_martin_span-articleInline Photo courtesy of Hugh Martin and The New York Times BOA poet and Iraq war veteran Hugh Martin recently shared with The New York Times blog “At War: Notes From the Front Lines” his insights, deep emotions, and fears from his war experiences before deploying overseas. Martin's NYT piece, “Longing for the Test of War as a Young Man,” chronicles his time in the Army National Guard reserve, a six-year commitment he signed up for just three months before the 9/11/01 attacks, and his journey from Basic Training to that which he had never anticipated before: deployment. "The war began for me while I was sitting on a couch in a living room," says Martin. "Like many people, I watched it all commence on television. At a friend’s house on campus, I sat with a few college friends and drank Bud Ice from bottles... During the invasion of Iraq, I was still certain I wouldn’t deploy anywhere." While Martin, along with many of his military companions, thought they would only see the war from home while guarding Army bases for the active-duty forces, his reserve unit brought him a "sense of community, of purpose." He says, "Although I didn’t know these soldiers on the screen and I wouldn’t be driving into Iraq with them, I still felt a deep bond, a connection that binds all who are in the same military." This sense of belonging and direction for Martin came with new knowledge and expertise that he could share with his friends while watching the war unfold on TV. “Before completing Basic Training, I had had my share of failures: kicked out of a private high school for poor grades my sophomore year, cut from the basketball team at the other high school my senior year, rejected by multiple universities and colleges due to my not-so-stellar grade point average of 2.7. So at the time, sitting in front of that television and being able to understand, at least on the surface level, what these machines were and who these men were felt good, even meaningful.” "I didn’t intend or want to go to war, but I still felt a draw to it, a strange attraction," says Martin. Regarding his conflicted emotions, he quotes British novelist Christopher Isherwood: "I was obsessed by a complex of terrors and longings connected with the idea of ‘war.’ ‘War,’ in this purely neurotic sense, meant ‘the test.’ The test of your courage, your maturity... 'Are you really a man?' Unconsciously I believe, I longed to be subjected to this test, but I also dreaded failure.” While at times Martin longed to take part in Isherwood's "test," and sometimes regretted not being on the other side of the TV screen, also present was his constant fear of failing. "I hadn’t joined active duty," says Martin, "I had joined as a reservist." Until his own "test" came to him upon deployment to Iraq, Martin acknowledges that there was so much about the war he still didn't know. "All of us sat on couches and watched the war begin through the same medium we’d watched a basketball game, a reality-show, a film on DVD... You might think you’re informed, but in the end, you’re just a 19-year-old boy from northeast Ohio drinking Bud Ice on a couch." “In that living room I understood this importance, though I couldn’t articulate it at the time and I couldn’t imagine how much that place being bombed would affect me... If I had any trouble comprehending the reality of that country, its people, the explosions that had already happened and the explosions yet to come, in less than a year I would cross Iraq’s border with Kuwait in my own up-armored Humvee. Until then, I’d continue to watch through a television.” Hugh Martin served in the Ohio Army National Guard until June 2007, and deployed to Iraq in 2004. Click here to read Martin's entire NYT piece. His first book The Stick Soldiers, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, can be found here.
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